The Myth of Johnson v. M’Intosh


In this Comment, the author considers the popular critique of the Great Case of Johnson v. M’Intosh as racist myth-making. After unpacking Johnson’s uncomfortable marriage of conquest and discovery, Seifert juxtaposes the opinion with Virgil’s Aeneid, western literature’s most famous, and famously ambivalent, establishment narrative. This comparison compels a different theoretical approach to the case. That approach, based on David Hume’s custom-based theory of property, shields Johnson from the Lockean rhetoric of many critics. Johnson, then, is a myth, mixing history with theory to precipitate a national narrative, but it is a myth birthed by sympathy and skepticism as much as by political pragmatism.

About the Author

Articles Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 52. J.D. candidate, UCLA School of Law, 2005. B.A., Pomona College, 2000.

By uclalaw